Posted on November 15, 2011

High Childhood IQ Linked to Subsequent Illicit Drug Use

Medical Xpress, November 15, 2011

A high childhood IQ may be linked to subsequent illegal drug use, particularly among women, suggests research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The authors base their findings on data from just under 8,000 people in the 1970 British Cohort Study, a large ongoing population based study, which looks at lifetime drug use, socioeconomic factors, and educational attainment.

The IQ scores of the participants were measured at the ages of 5 and 10 years, using a validated scale, and information was gathered on self reported levels of psychological distress and drug use at the age of 16, and again at the age of 30 (drug use only) .

Drug use included cannabis; cocaine; uppers (speed and wiz); downers (blues, tanks, barbiturates); LSD (acid); and heroin.

By the age of 30, around one in three men (35.4%) and one in six women (15.9%) had used cannabis, while 8.6% of men and 3.6% of women had used cocaine, in the previous 12 months.

A similar pattern of use was found for the other drugs, with overall drug use twice as common among men as among women.

When intelligence was factored in, the analysis showed that men with high IQ scores at the age of 5 were around 50% more likely to have used amphetamines, ecstasy, and several illicit drugs than those with low scores, 25 years later.

The link was even stronger among women, who were more than twice as likely to have used cannabis and cocaine as those with low IQ scores.

The same associations emerged between a high IQ score at the age of 10 and subsequent use of cannabis, ecstasy, amphetamines, multiple drug use and cocaine, although this last association was only evident at the age of 30.

The findings held true, irrespective of anxiety/depression during adolescence, parental social class, and lifetime household income.

“Although most studies have suggested that higher child or adolescent IQ prompts the adoption of a healthy lifestyle as an adult, other studies have linked higher childhood IQ scores to excess alcohol intake and alcohol dependency in adulthood,” write the authors.

Although it is not yet clear exactly why there should be a link between high IQ and illicit drug use, the authors point to previous research, showing that highly intelligent people are open to experiences and keen on novelty and stimulation.

Other research has also shown that brainy children are often easily bored and suffer at the hands of their peers for being different, “either of which could conceivably increase vulnerability to using drugs as an avoidant coping strategy,” explain the authors.

[Editor’s Note: See this article for information about the racial disparity in drug use. It’s curious that Asians have the lowest incidence of drug use in spite of high average IQs.]

22 responses to “High Childhood IQ Linked to Subsequent Illicit Drug Use”

  1. Conan says:

    One of the best recent examples of this was Nancy Spungen. She was highly intelligent as a child and came from a very well off middleclass family but ended up getting hooked on heroin and falling in with British punk musician,Sid Vicious, which only excellerated her self destruction.,ending with her being stabbed in the stomach and bleeding to death in a grimy hotel bathroom.

  2. Hirsch says:

    I believe that the highest rate of drug use is by neither white nor black children, but by those of mixed ancestry. They are of course torn between identities and they use drugs to assuage their schizophrenic feelings, or so the story goes.

    Our current commander-in-chief admitted to enjoying his fair share of drugs, in order to blot out the pain of going to the most prestigious high-school in America. His predecessor did the same. The Rhodes Scholar before him of course said he had difficulty mastering that whole “inhalation” thing.

    I suppose I’ve meandered onto a tangent, but can we get a president who has never done drugs or sexually harrassed a woman?

  3. Anonymous says:

    These findings of a positive correlation between drug use and high intelligence doesn’t surprise me at all. What I’d like to see are the correlations between high IQ, drug use, and other social pathologies, including arrests. My guess is that these people hold jobs, have families, pay their bills, and are unlikely to commit crimes other than drug offenses.

  4. Bardon says:

    In short, neurotics & bohemians. And self-hating liberal politicians.

  5. William Hendershot says:

    It may not be causative, but rather that more intelligent people

    more frequently attend college, where they are more likely to be exposed to drugs.

  6. Bill R says:

    Why do I get the feeling this study is meant to demean the root cause of the achievement gap? More and more we are finding people forced to conclude that IQ plays a key role in performance. So now we have this new study which states that high IQ kids are more likely to be drug abusers as adults? I don’t buy it.

  7. hts says:

    This makes absolutely no sense to me. It runs completely counter to everything I have experienced in my life…

  8. Anonymous says:

    The popularity of recreational drugs among high acheivers mirrors the popularity of extreme sports and risk-taking activities.

    It stands to reason that the more intelligent and complex humans become, the more they have to use complex means to get in touch with their primal, earthy side.

    Nobody embodies this more than whites.

  9. Anonymous says:

    “Other research has also shown that brainy children are often easily bored and suffer at the hands of their peers for being different, “either of which could conceivably increase vulnerability to using drugs as an avoidant coping strategy,” explain the authors.”

    Or it could be that intelligent but naive young are prone to experimentation and experimenting with certain drugs has been considered a kind of intellectual experiment since the 60s at least, even Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was portrayed as a cocaine addict. It would be interesting to know if the use among the higher IQ youth was chronic or not. In all my years of crusading against drug abuse, it has seemed that drug use of any type over sustained periods, subtracts IQ points and promotes various types of neurosis and even psychosis. Even marijuana is not exempt from this.

    But there is also the notion of eggheads that want desperately to “fit in,” to feel “cool.” Most liberals I know are obviously people who became so during the 60s and beyond in order to feel included and part of what they had become convinced was cool. For most, being liberal is more a ticket to the big rock concert in the sky with every 60s cliche’ you can drudge up, than a thought out, objective assessment of human politics subject to critical intelligent review. But the right has its “drug” as well – religion.

  10. Billy now in Cambodia says:


    [legendary newspaper headline in the U.K.]

    The social reality is that lots of sane people in the USA / UK / Western Europe / the entire Anglosphere have smoked weed, dropped acid and snorted coke once or more but haven’t – for the most part – messed up their lives for two simple reasons:






    Other people fall off the edge and completely mess up their lives with drug abuse simply because they haven’t set themselves appropriate boundaries and/or they don’t have the sort of family and friendship networks to slap them on the wrists and compel them to stop.

    Julie Burchill, a British writer of working-class background, has said that social behavior – marital breakdown, drinking too much, promiscuous sex, taking extra-marital sexual partners, recreational drug use – which is hardly any real problem in [posh] Mayfair turns into social disaster when tried out in [working-class] Wapping and Bow.

    However, this boils down to all sorts of grim and not-so-grim social realities.


    Q: How many young Jewish-Americans and Japanese-Americans have tried a puff of weed in their teens or early twenties?

    A: Most of them or very nearly most of them.

    Q: So how many young Jewish-Americans and Japanese-Americans end up as druggie screwups?

    A: Almost none

    Ask the same question about Chicanos or Blacks and the answer is a different one.

    I feel the I.Q. issue is misleading; I, as a provincial kid, was led to trying recreational drugs by listenng to Bob Dylan and reading Kerouac and Burroughs but now, in Cambodia, the extent of my drug abuse is sharing a marijuana pizza with my 33-year-old bookkeeper ladyfriend, a mother-of-two.

    Perhaps I might conclude by saying that smoking raw sticky opium [in Laos and Thailand] was a dreadful disappointment; Michigan ditchweed is a better option.

  11. PRC says:

    Does anyone have the artcle title or volume/issue information for the original article in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health? I can’t find it, and I’d like to read a little deeper.

  12. Anonymous says:

    When I read this it brought to mind Amy Winehouse.

  13. Southern Hoosier says:

    OK, if high IQ equates to drug use, then why so much drug use in the hood? Did they factor in race? Probably not, that would have been racist.

  14. Alexandra says:

    I was in accelerated classes in school, I was forever being bullied and I was a loner…yet I’ve never done illicit drugs or been drunk.

    Maybe that’s because I knew that my parents would have my head on a pole if I did that kind of thing! I remember my mother drilling it into my head from the time I was five or six, don’t do that stuff!

    What did I do when I was bored? Read books, write stories, draw pictures, play Nintendo, watch my favorite shows on TV.

  15. SoCal LoCal says:

    I will be stunned if we do not find out, down the line, that this study is bogus.

  16. Rose O. Gregor says:

    The two paragraphs at the end of the report plus #5 make sense.

    Here is lead-editorial quotation from the British Sunday newspaper for the high-IQ left-liberal “elite”, The Observer, November 13, following its reference to PM Cameron’s previous support for considering legalisation in tackling the “drugs dilemma”, and to the Annan-Schulz-Volcker report that the “war on drugs…cannot be won”:-

    “This generation of leaders [is] the first to have widespread, first-hand experience of illegal drugs…throughout their university, social and professional lives….

    “Prohibition has failed….

    “The winds of change will not likely be driven by politics, health or morality, but by…the business community who see an economic case for ending the drug war on the one hand and for opening up a lucrative new market for American business on the other hand….people are starting to ask why the market in drugs can’t shift from the cartels to the capitalists….money talks.”

    So the mass-production, mass-distribution and mass-consumption of addictive brain poisons, at prices criminals cannot match, now follows hard-core porn and gangsta rap as the acme of capitalist profiteering – with enthusiastic support from the “socialist intelligentsia”.

    Somehow it all figures.

    How to destroy the high culture of the west? Take the “sex, drugs and rock&roll” revolution to its ultimate fatality.

    Cui bono?

  17. Anonymous says:

    “How to destroy the high culture of the west? Take the “sex, drugs and rock&roll” revolution to its ultimate fatality.”

    You may be right. But know when I was a teenager I asked my Great Grandfather how it was to be in his early twenties around 1915. Without any sex or fun unless you were married. He laughed and said are you kidding there was sex all over the place in America especially the big cities. It was below the surface he said. He also said just a few years before Americans could go into any drugstore buy Morphine, Cocaine you name and they did by the millions!. After that there was plenty of alcohol. They also has their Rock and Roll it was called Jazz. I believe the difference these days is the tearing down of the feeling of White superiority and is independent of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll”.

  18. Anonymous says:

    One of my favorite radio commentators used to say , ” We no longer have enough woodland trails to walk or apple trees to climb etc.” I came through the system when we did . We could literally walk out our back doors to our next adventure; hunting , fishing or exploring along a creek , looking for ancient artifacts and fossils . And this is what we did if we were not in school , at work or playing sandlot ball .

    Drugs and alcohol were almost unheard of in the sixties in south Georgia . Unfortunately by the seventies we were beginning to catch up with the rest of the nation . We even had two mass murders in that decade , the Alday murders and the IGA massacre at Bluffton . One perpetrated by out of staters and the other by minorities . The one by minorites was archived by an Albany civil rights lawyer , so finding anything on it is next to impossible .

    But I am so glad to have come through the system when I did . I now have those memories and they are priceless . Undeniably , the end of an era .It’s a shame we are not able to find our way back . I can take or leave alcohol, I usually decline it and I’ve never

    used illegal drugs . If that makes me low IQ , I’ll take it as opposed to being a drug fiend .

  19. RegvlvsSeradly says:

    The Asian statistics dispute this (but I think most stats on drug use are bogus due to dishonesty).

    The fact is, there is no clean explanation for drug use.

  20. Anonymous says:

    “High Childhood IQ Linked to Subsequent Illicit Drug Use”


    This might be true in certain circumstances. Take a white child that shows a potential for high IQ, degrade them continuously every moment of their life, and by the time they become teenagers they will looking for something to numb the psychological pain. Some would take drugs, some would use sex, and others may become violent. If the children don’t understand why they are being abused (because others envy them) they may start to hate themselves, which might lead to drug use.

    High IQ does not cause someone to use drugs. Look at the drug use by the natives in South America and Africa. The exact opposite is true.

  21. highduke says:

    High IQ is at the 99.9 percentile which is an IQ of app. 130-something: the minimum to join a high IQ society but this study doesn’t give a number which makes me suspicious as to how they define ‘high IQ’ and whether this important semantic issue could debunk the conclusions especially if they classify high IQ as just a triple digit score which would be laughable.

  22. Jason Robertson says:

    A careful and patient internet search will unearth quite recent evidence of the permanent damage that can be done to the human brain/nervous system by cannabis alone, including the lowering of IQ and the initiation of mental illness. You have to work through “damage reduction” and “ridicule the scaremongers” sites, but the medical data is there in considerable quantity.

    Financial interests that hope to make a global “killing” (!) from mass-commercialisation will expect the taxpayer to pick up the bill for medical treatment, “rehab”, road accidents, crime under the influence, and breakdown of the work ethic, of contracts and of family life.